What an unpredictable race that was. It certainly felt like a tale of two halves. The first half full of calm and strategy, the second full of crashes and chaos. In the end, Kurt Busch won the war of attrition and finally took home his first Daytona 500 win. Let’s break it all down…
-There was certainly a lot of strategy early in the race. The Gibbs and Furniture Row Toyotas pitted together early, and then the Stewart-Haas and Penske Fords did the same thing. The result was the flipping of the field that strung out the pack and put a few good cars a lap down. The 11 was my pick to win and it seemed like he could never even get to the front. That’s something that surprised me, and the strategy certainly played a role in that.
-The racing seemed to settle down a bit as the pack strung itself out, but that all changed right after halfway. Kyle Busch spun after getting a flat right rear tire in Turn 3, collecting Dale Jr., Matt Kenseth, Ty Dillon, and Erik Jones. An unfortunate crash for Junior in his first race back. Will be interesting to see if there was a drop-off in TV ratings after the 88 retired.
-Kevin Harvick won Stage 2 and the entire race changed after that. The best I can figure is that once the stages finished many drivers simply felt more rushed to get to the finish? There seemed to be some extra desperation and lack of patience, never a good combo at Daytona.
Two past Daytona 500 champions, Jamie McMurray and Trevor Bayne, seemed to be a little too aggressive coming down the backstretch. The result was another huge crash that took out Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick. A total of 17 cars were involved in that one. Completely unnecessary aggressive racing with over 70 laps still to go. You could even hear Jeff Gordon say right before the crash, “do they think there are 10 laps to go?”
But that’s what Daytona does. It creates anxiety and desperation, forcing veteran drivers to make mistakes they wouldn’t normally make.
-Thought we were done? Nope. Not even a full lap later going back to green, McMurray forced the issue again on the backstretch and turned Chase Elliott. The result was another huge crash that took out a bunch of the leaders, McMurray, Suarez, Hamlin, Keselowski, Newman all involved.
-As the laps wound down it seemed like no one was going to be able to slip past leader Chase Elliott. The guys in the booth talked about it, could any of those banged up, damaged cars make a move in the draft?
Suddenly with three to go, total chaos. The 24 car sputtered, short on fuel, and Martin Truex Jr. took the lead. Then the 78 sputtered and Kyle Larson was able to go to the lead and take the white flag. In turn 2, Kurt Busch was able to go to the outside of the 42 and take the lead and Larson also ran out of gas. Ryan Blaney and A.J. Allmendinger tried to chase down the 41, but they couldn’t get close enough. Kurt Busch, who seemed to be the one that was going to be short on fuel, was able to make it the distance to win the 500.
-I didn’t even think about this until Gordon mentioned it in the booth. Chase Elliott had the field running around using the high line for the last 20 or so laps. That, of course, means that those cars were driving a longer distance than if they ran along the bottom. All of those guys who ran out of fuel… could they have possibly made it to the end if they had been using the bottom?
-Busch said in his post race interview that his rear-view mirror fell down with around 30 laps to go. He went the whole rest of the way with no vision straight behind him. That’s unbelievable… Honestly? I think it may have even benefited him. The 41 was fourth in line in those closing laps. All he should have been concerned with was holding it wide open and going straight, which is what he did. Straight to victory lane.
-I’ve never been a Kurt Busch fan. I would never consider him a well-liked driver by any means. He wasn’t my first choice to win in that final group. His past has certainly been checkered, and I don’t mean flags.
But this victory is quite the redemption story, isn’t it? He’s seemed to be more grounded with SHR recently, and how much credit can we give to Tony Stewart and Tony Gibson for that? I think a lot. I guess it’s never too late to be redeemed.
-I did find it odd, though maybe not too surprising, that many commentators on FOX and ESPN seemed to be more enthralled with the fact that Tony Stewart and Tony Gibson were finally going to victory lane at Daytona than with the fact that Kurt Busch was…
-Michael Waltrip has been one of my favorite drivers for a long, long time. I’m glad Mikey could get a Top 10 finish in his final start in the Daytona 500. I look forward to seeing him continue his broadcasting for FOX. A great ambassador, and entertainer, for the sport.
-I think the stages will translate better to mile-and-a-half and one mile tracks. On those circuits the stages will break up the race and re-stack the field. For restrictor plate racing, it felt like the stages broke up the action too much. The strategy certainly strung out and flipped the field, which made things interesting.
I think the stage system does work, though. Drivers are being rewarded for performance throughout the entire race. Excited to see how it develops throughout the season.
-I understand the thinking behind the five-minute repair rule. I still think NASCAR needs to tweak it just a little bit. I may write on this during the week, but I feel like there isn’t enough consistency with the rule. Too much gray area.
Well, now we enter that time known as “Post-Daytona Depression.” Every single year, since I was five years old, I just get really sad once the Daytona 500 is over. It makes no sense, really. The whole season is ahead of us. But there’s just something so special about Daytona. It means so much more. The build-up for the entire month of February is just intoxicating. I love it so much, and I already can’t wait until next year.